SHORT STORY: Ghost Therapy by Keith Baker
'˜And what makes you think you can help?' Dr Pamela Littleton asked, recovering from the shock of seeing the ghost of a highwayman, by the name of Dale, sitting comfortably in the client's chair opposite.
‘Well, I could tell your patients about the perils of a wayward life.’
‘And what’s in it for you?’ she inquired.
‘Ah, very perceptive,’ he replied. ‘You do justice to your reputation.’
Pamela Littleton, an elegant, charismatic women in her early thirties, was one of the leading criminal psychologists in the country.
‘It’s a long story, but I’ve been to hell and back again, which is more than can be said of the king’s horses and the king’s men who followed me.
‘It seems that, although I robbed the rich, without bloodshed I must add, my pursuers were overly enthusiastic in their duties, executing both innocent and guilty to meet their quota of crimes solved. While they stayed in hell, I was given a chance to redeem my soul. If I save 100 souls from hell, I will be allowed through the pearly gates.’
‘How many have you saved so far?’
‘Then, why pick on me to help you?’
‘Life’s tough being a ghost. In the 19th century, people were scared of ghosts. They were a lot more curious in the 20th, which is where I saved most of my souls. This century however, people are either out to exploit me or they think I’m a very good hologram. Please say you’ll help me to save one more soul.’
Pamela had to smile at his forlorn expression.
‘OK, we’ll give it a try.’
It took a few days to select a prisoner who wouldn’t be spooked by Dale and would benefit from Ghost Therapy.
The first session was a disaster. Sam Blackwood, a cocky young man of 23 walked into her office, took one look at Dale and started laughing.
‘Why do you want to use a weird hologram like that?’ he asked looking around for the projector.
Dale’s face was a picture of outrage and misery. ‘I told you life was tough for a ghost.’
‘Am I supposed to be scared of this and repent?’ Sam said insolently.
‘Yes,’ Dale replied, a bit flustered.
Pam looked on amused, as Dale tried to explain who he was and why Sam should change his ways. Sam wasn’t convinced, even when Dale walked through Pamela’s desk to show he really was a ghost. The only response from Sam was, ‘That’s a cool hologram you’ve got there.’
The next two sessions weren’t any better. On the fourth Pamela decided to cut her losses. They weren’t making any progress at all. Dale banged his head through the wall in frustration.
‘I wish I’d died in the charge,’ he said. ‘At least I would’ve died a hero.’
‘What charge?’ Pamela asked.
‘You know, the Charge of the Light Brigade.’
‘I’ve read that poem,’ Sam said, surprising himself as much as the others.
Pamela’s keen mind locked on to Sam’s words like a guided missile. Had she found the tiny nugget of interest that might be the lever she needed to prise open Sam’s impenetrable shell of indifference? Keeping her pose of neutral interest, Pamela asked. ‘Were you really in the Charge of the Light Brigade?’
‘Yes,’ came the reply, ‘I told Tennyson his poem was good but there was no glory only death.’
‘You knew Tennyson,’ Pamela continued, watching Sam’s feigned disinterest out of the corner of her eye.
‘Just because I was a highwayman, didn’t mean I was uneducated,’ came the indignant reply.
‘Why did you become a highwayman?’
Dale sighed. ‘When I was discharged, I just couldn’t settle. After a while I started taking risks just for the need of danger, I suppose, that led on to even greater risks like trying to outsmart the law.’
When the session finished, Pamela asked Dale if he would use his ghostly talents.
At the start of their next session, an angry but shaken Sam burst through the door.
‘You put him up to it,’ he accused, pointing to Dale.
Pamela’s cool calm professional exterior remained intact, but inside she gave a whoop of joy. She had just driven a huge wedge into Sam’s protective shell.
‘Up to what?’ she asked innocently, noting Sam’s attitude to Dale had changed.
It transpired that Dale had visited Sam’s home and found some old exercise books under Sam’s bed. He then confronted Sam in his cell that night, bluffing that he knew they were filled with stories and poems. Sam didn’t deny it. There were no quick fixes in life, and seemingly in death, to saving a soul.
Over the following months with gentle but persistent probing Sam’s love of poetry was slowly extracted. It had been buried deep under the remorseless gang culture and the need to show no weakness of any kind. Pamela felt a sense of triumph when Sam had finally given permission for her to read his poems.
Her triumph turned to awe when she read the poems. This thug was truly talented. They sat in companionable silence after Sam had left, carrying with him the enrolment forms for an Open University course in poetry.
‘Well, I think my work’s done,’ Dale breathed, with a note of sadness, ‘my last soul saved.’
‘I’ll look for you in heaven,’ he said and slowly faded from view.
Relaxing back in her chair, eyes closed, Pamela rubbed her hands down her face and gave a sigh of relief. At last she could resume a normal way of life. It was fun having a ghost around but terrible on the nerves.
A polite, ‘ahem’ broke her train of thought. Before her, sat an old sea dog, the very embodiment of a pirate ghost.
‘Would you be that lady ’cologist who reforms prisoners?’ he asked.
• Keith Baker is a member of the Writers at Lovedean group and is writing a series of children’s stories.
• This is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub.
• If you have a story you would like considered for publication in The News, send it to the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub [email protected]. For more information check out the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub